“Who can possibly know what I write better than me?”
“The story is great! My wife read the whole thing.”
“I use spell check.”
If you have ever said one of the foregoing, you might need an editor.
Let’s face it: Editors do far more than spell check. Just as the beta team did far more for you than just adulate over your poignant use of alliteration, your editor is the one who is looking at your story with a microscope.
Long considered the bloodiest portion of the editing process, line edits are an absolute necessity. The majority of editors will read your work from the back page to the front, first. They will catch the small things this way. What can you catch in reverse?
True Book Examples:
- Lyons is not the capital of France.
- There were no Canadian troops at war in 1953.
- Gunpowder was invented in 400AD, but was not used for weapons for another 800 years.
- George Washington Carver did not invent peanut butter.
- Sony did not invent the ereader.
Nitpicky? You betcha. Voracious readers who like your subject are going to know these things. If you have not done your research, chances are if the reader finishes the book, it will be the last one of yours.
After the reverse read, editors read the book the way you intend for readers. Good editors will have the notes from the beta team handy to see if your corrections have created any problems.
- If you changed your setting midstream, simply correcting the name of the town or place is often insufficient. Subsequent story may be based on inherent qualities of the now-deleted place.
- If you have non-zombie resurrection issues, your chapters may need to be completely rearranged or large sections may need to be cut for story continuity.
- If you changed the major battle of your Middle Ages novel to May 4, 1540, to add story line in support of your romance, your timeline is in serious need of help.
With the vast and varied forms of the English language, one of the thing your editor will fish eye very closely is your use and your characters’ use of language. While it may have sounded poetic or amazing when you wrote it, your reader may just see it as weird or inappropriate.
Major issues are:
- Language beyond the scope of your characters.
- Children tend not to use polysyllabic words when there is a handy four-letter one.
- Substituting author education for characters
- Dialect belied by the character’s background
- Language for the sake of language.
- Incorrect usage of words like utilize, nauseous and disinterested
- Repetition of ostentatious words
- Systematic assassination of language
- Consistent fragments, run on sentences, comma splices, etc.
- Passive voice
- Tense shift
None of these errors are stylistic, even if it is your style to commit them. No matter who may have told you it was showing your individuality, it is merely a reason for a reader to never finish your book.
No, not all readers are Grammar Nazis; however, they do expect a modicum of decorum. Even when they cannot tell you what is wrong with a passage, they can tell you it reads like the Google Translate version of spam. Having a Grammar Nazi as an editor is in your (and your book’s) favor.
Depending on your contract, copy edits may not be a task requiring your response. The very last edit is another reverse read looking only for spelling and punctuation mistakes. By now, at least ten people have read your book. A really good copy editor will find dozens of overlooked objectionable entries:
- Overabundance or dearth of commas
- Its/It’s and other common apostrophe mistakes
- Semicolon usage
- Spelling errors
- Subject/verb agreement
If your story editor is also your copy editor, choose a Grammar Nazi. After all, spell check is not an editor.
Your copy editor is also going to take out all the other “style” you put in the manuscript. Overuse of formatting (italics, bold, underscore) and ellipses are on the chopping block because they assault your readers eyes and intellect. If your language does not support drama, italics will not make the reader imagine it for you. If you mean for the reader to pause to contemplate, skip the ellipse and begin a new chapter.
Although you love your manuscript because it is the most effort you have put into writing anything, it needs to be edited by a professional. For all the same reasons your friends are not good choices for beta reading, they are likewise not the best candidates for editing. Seeing every blemish exposed can be difficult for ego. In the end, editing is the maturation process all good books survive.
Has an editor ever pointed out something you completely overlooked? What is your funniest edit? How many times was your book edited before press?
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